Is it really over already? We blinked, and 2012 passed us by, or so it seemed.
As we charge into the teenage years of this century, it’s worth looking back at what Australian sport offered up to us, the humble fan, in the year the Mayans thought would be the last (look, I know they didn’t really think that but I saw the movie and damn was it awful. So they need to take some of the blame, OK?)
Best individual performance – Jacqueline Freney
The wonderful Australian Paralympic swimming team member entered eight events at the London Paralympics. She came away with eight gold medals. Michael Phelps, eat your heart out.
Best handling of expectations – Sally Pearson
In 2008, when Sally Pearson won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, her joyful and wide-eyed thrill at having reached the Olympic podium set her apart from the robotic, stage-managed media-speak we’d come to expect from top athletes.
Four years later, she was still wide-eyed and joyful but this time she was Australia’s number one hope at the London Olympics and, like Cathy Freeman in 2000, carried the weight of a nation’s expectation on her shoulders.
She delivered. Joyfully.
Best ‘party pooper’ win – Anna Meares
The story was writing itself. ‘Queen’ Victoria Pendleton, having already bagged gold and being the darling of the London crowd, faced off with Anna Meares in the sprint.
It was to be Pendleton’s last race but Meares spoiled the British fairy tale and created one of her own by winning the sprint gold. Pendleton’s gracious embrace of her fierce rival after the second race was an Olympic highlight of its own.
Best captaincy form – Michael Clarke
Before he succeeded Ricky Ponting, there were concerns that giving the Australian cricket captaincy to Michael Clarke would further affect his already-dodgy batting form.
A triple century, three double centuries, and a whole pile of other Test runs in 2012 seem to indicate that Clarke is relishing the responsibility.
Saddest loss – Jim Stynes
On March 20th 2012, Jim Stynes lost his brave battle with cancer. He was no ordinary man. The Irishman became a Melbourne Demons legend in his playing career from 1987 to 1998, which included an amazing streak of 244 consecutive games. He became the first, and so far only, non-Australian born player to win the Brownlow Medal, a feat achieved in 1991.
Off the field he was a great supporter of disadvantaged youth, setting up the Reach Foundation. His club presidency is credited with almost single-handedly saving his beloved Demons from bankruptcy. In an era of corporate sports greed and worship of the dollar, Stynes was the epitome of loyalty.
Best acquisition – Alessandro Del Piero
If one player has ever lit up an entire competition, it is Alessandro Del Piero. The Italian legend’s arrival at Sydney FC caused unprecedented interest, not only in Sydney FC but in the whole league.
His home debut in front of almost 36,000 fans in Sydney’s match against Newcastle Jets was marked by a trademark free kick goal, which was greeted by a roar that scared the seagulls at Bondi Beach.
And while Sydney’s season has stumbled alarmingly towards the wrong end of the table, consider this: On December 27th, with Sydney rock bottom, 17,000 fans turned out to see them play the Central Coast Mariners, and many were lured to the game by the diminutive ADP.
Worst whinger – Johnathan Thurston
Or maybe that should be ‘best whinger’, because the North Queensland Cowboys skipper had it down to an art form in 2012. Undoubtedly talented, Thurston spent as much time with his mouthguard in his hand questioning the refs as he did tormenting opposition defences.
Most welcome departure – Clive Palmer
The Australian football fraternity breathed a sigh of relief when Clive Palmer was exiled from the A-League. Palmer set up Football Australia (or something, I don’t really remember and care even less), an apparent breakaway attempt from the FFA, the purpose of which remains a mystery to this day.
He sank his own creation in Gold Coast United and the league has not looked back since Frank Lowy snatched back his A-League license.
Best coach – Des Hasler
Surely the first reigning premiership-winning coach to get sacked, Hasler’s acrimonious departure from Manly was Canterbury’s gain. Hasler came ever so close to becoming the first ever coach to win consecutive premierships with two different clubs, taking the Bulldogs all the way to the NRL grand final.
Worst curse – Wallabies Captaincy
The Wallabies endured a horrendous injury run in 2012 but it was the ‘captain’s curse’ that must have had the next in line for the skipper’s armband quaking in their boots.
David Pocock, James Horwill and Will Genia all suffered major injuries after becoming Wallabies captain. Nathan Sharpe ended the year as skipper but took the sensible option of retiring before he could become acquainted with the physio rooms.
Those are my best and worst. What’s yours? Happy New Year, Roarers.